Results of 2018 Reading Challenge and Why I’m Not Doing One in 2019

I completed a reading challenge in 2017 and enjoyed it so much I decided to do another one in 2018. I spotted the perfect one when it was posted in a Facebook group I belong to. The challenge was 40 books for 40 years and was set up by a group of book-loving friends who were all turning 40 in 2018. As I was also turning 40 in 2018 I thought this would be a great challenge to join in. Here are the books I chose. As you can see, there is one missing! I will explain why I am not doing a challenge this year at the end of the post.

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1)A book about ww1Barefoot on The Cobbles by Janet Few (a bit of a cheat as the book was not specifically about WW1 but it did cover that time period and I really wanted to help out a fellow indie author and read her book!)

2)A non-fiction book about sport – knew I would struggle with this one, and despite a few helpful suggestions from people towards the end, I ran out of time, plus couldn’t be bothered!

3)A Crime novelSix Stories by Matt Wesolowski – absolutely brilliant, highly recommended, unique format, incredibly creepy and Hydra by the same author is wonderful too. His next book Changeling is on my to-read list!

4)A book for adults written by a predominantly children’s authorThe Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling. I’ve never read Harry Potter but was curious to read this and I was pleasantly surprised. It kept my attention and kept me entertained when staying overnight in the hospital with my son!

5)A sequel to a book you’ve already read – Force of Nature by Jane Harper – a slight cheat again, as it’s not really a sequel, but it is her second book and contains the same main character!

6) A book that’s been on your TBR pile for more than 12 months – Release – Patrick Ness – one of my favourite authors, so this was an easy one and did not disappoint

7) An autobiography – Johnny Cash – I’m a fan, plus it was an excuse to read a book I’d bought my mum for Christmas! Really enjoyed this

8) A Carnegie medal winner – One by Sarah Crossan – a quick google of Carnegie medal winners and I liked the sound of this. It was a very quick read, written in verse. Pretty good.

9) A historical novel – The Finest Hat In The Whole World – Colleen Parkinson – an easy choice, as the author is a friend of mine, and this book is incredible! I don’t normally read historical fiction but this was an epic family saga and I couldn’t put it down.

10) A book that is about Summer – Jackdaw Summer by David Almond – my son and I love David Almond and are working out way through his books, so this was an easy and very enjoyable choice. Also a quick read!

11) A book with a prominent character who is LGBTQIA – Symptoms of Being Human – Jeff Garvin – This was a book on my to-read list anyway, so it was another easy choice and I really loved this book. YA at its best.

12) A book with a number in the title – 11.22.63 by Stephen King – I love Stephen King so when I saw this title I knew it was the one to read to tick off number 12. Great book!

13) The final book in a series – Bonds of Blood and Spirit – Legacies – When I was a reviewer for the sadly defunct site Underground Book Reviews, I picked this series to read as it sounded so different to anything I normally go for. Vampires, werewolves and shapeshifters. This was the last in the series and the last book I ever read and reviewed for UBR! Fantastic series.

14) A book from a genre you normally avoid – Jackson by Tracy Podger – This is a romance book, I guess, but a very hard-hitting gritty one. I’d seen it come up in some groups I’m in on Facebook and although I never read romance or erotica, I decided to pick it for this challenge as it sounded pretty interesting. It was a really good book and it was really good to try a genre I normally avoid!

15) A children’s book you didn’t read as a child – Danny Champion of the World by Roald Dahl – I somehow missed this as a child but thoroughly enjoyed it for the first time as an adult!

16) A book originally published under a nom de plume – The Secret Path (Spooksville Book 1) by Christopher Pike – a google search brought Christopher Pike up as someone who writes under a pen name. I’d forgotten about his books, but I actually devoured tons of these as a young teen! I didn’t really enjoy this one though, or his writing style, now I’m an adult. I kind of skim read this.

17) A book recommended to you by a friend – The Minotaur Hunt by Miriam Hastings – My favourite indie author Kate Rigby recommended this indie book to me and I’m so glad I read it, as it’s a fantastic example of how amazing self-pubbed books can be! A disturbing examination of mental illness, I couldn’t put this down.

18) A book with a title featuring the weather – Black Storm by Mark Gillespie – Mark is an author I’ve been following for some time. I try to read as many of his books as I can, but he writes so many, it’s a job to keep up! If you like dark post-apocalyptic, dystopian and alternative history, in short, sharp bursts of action, this is the author for you.

19) A book whose title begins with the first letter of your name – Clay by David Almond – Another David Almond book, so I was happy. Just love his work!

20) A book you chose solely by the cover – Ink by Alice Broadway- beautiful cover and intriguing blurb, but this left me underwhelmed. I just couldn’t care about the characters of the story, so won’t be reading any more in the series.

21) A book where the illustrator is credited on the front cover – The Song From Somewhere Else by A.F Harrold – a kids books in the vein of David Almond, but not as good, I picked this up for one of my kids and as it is full of beautiful illustrations, the artist was credited on the front cover

22) A book published in the year you were born – Still I Rise by Maya Angelou – I don’t normally read poetry, but this was a real treat and worth doing the whole challenge for.

23) A book set in a country you’ve never visited before – Girlhood by Cat Clarke –set in Scotland. I’ve always wanted to go but haven’t made it yet. My daughter bought herself four books by this author and I read some all. Some were better than others, but my daughter got more from them than I did.

24) A book based on or inspired by a true story – Smash all the Windows by Jane Davis – a different tragedy unfolds here, but this was inspired by the Hillsborough tragedy, and Jane Davis is a fantastic indie writer I follow. I’ve read quite a few of hers now and they never disappoint.

25) a book translated from another language – Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin – Wow, this was different. Creepy, eerie, dark, confusing.

26) A Book of short stories – Paisley Shirt by Gail Aldwin – I rarely read short story collections, but I should make more effort, This was a real treat written by an author I know.

27) A book about a culture you don’t know much about – The Fragile Thread of Hope by Pankaj Giri – I’m sorry to say I didn’t finish this one. I just couldn’t get into it and sadly none of the characters interested me.

28) A collaboration novel (2 or more authors) – Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King – another slightly disappointing one. It was good, but not great, and it was the characters that let me down. I just struggled to care about them!

29) A book by an author you’ve never read before – Mexican Whiteboy by Matt De La Penna – I think this was on my to-read list for some reason, but I’d never heard of the author and it was a pleasure to discover he has more than one book out as I really, really enjoyed this. The characterisation was spot on. I will definitely read the rest of his when I can!

30) A book with an alliterative title – Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay – bought this for my daughter as she had been enjoying the TV show, but sadly I didn’t really enjoy it, or the TV show.

31) A book you spotted on bookstagram – The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz- having read and loved Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe, I spotted this on Instagram and knew I had to read it. It was brilliant and I love this author!

32) A fantasy novel – The Oscillator – JK Neve – a brilliant, short, YA fantasy novel written by a guy who comes to my writing group, this was an easy choice!

33) A book set in space – Space Police by David Blake – spotted in a Facebook group, knew it would help tick this one off, but it wasn’t my kind of book

34) re-read a book you read as a child – My Naughty Little Sister by Dorothy Edwards – I loved these books as a child so it was great to read this one again!

35) A book of poetry or a book written in verse – With Double blade – Jean Gill – again, don’t often read poetry, so it was good to be dragged out of my comfort zone and I really liked this

36) A book considered a classic in your favourite genre – The Pigman by Paul Zindel – My favourite genre is YA, and this was a pleasure to read.

37) A green book – Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood – This came up when I googled ‘green’ books, and as I loved The Handmaid’s Tale, it was an easy pick, but I didn’t really like it, sadly. It just didn’t do much for me.

38) A 2018 debut novel – The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo – Brilliant YA book written in poetic verse, I devoured this and loved every page.

39) Read a holiday-themed book around the time of that holiday – Pet Sematary by Stephen King – another slight cheat. I chose Halloween and this is a spooky book, but not one specifically about Halloween. Was great reading it again though, and it prompted me to watch the old version of the film again.

40) Start a book on your birthday, a book that simply takes your fancy! – The Outsider by Stephen King – I got this as a birthday present so it was the perfect choice and I really really enjoyed this one.

So, there they are. The good and the not so good, as well as the slight cheats and the one I didn’t read! I’m proud to point out that there are 12 indie books in this list! It was great to be able to tick books off from the challenge and help out my fellow indies at the same time. This was a great challenge and I mostly enjoyed it, however, I’m not doing one this year. Last year, most of my reading time was taken up by trying to complete this challenge and by editing my own books on my kindle. Therefore, my to-read list of books I actually want to check out is ridiculous! I need to tackle that this year and I don’t want to read any books that are not my kind of thing. It is good to get out of your comfort zone, and I admit that the poetry, short stories, romance and historical fiction books I read for this challenge were all a pleasant surprise, but at the same time, you know what you like, don’t you? I know what I like, and what I am always searching for is compelling, well-written and character driven books, in almost any genre. Hard to find at times!

So, folks what did you read in 2018? What was the best book you read? The most disappointing? Did you discover any new authors? Are you going to take part in a reading challenge this year? Please feel free to comment and share!

Why I Love Writing #3; I Get To Live More Than One Life

Did you ever watch movies when you were a kid, and think why doesn’t anything interesting ever happen to me? You know the kind of movies I’m talking about. The Goonies, The Lost Boys, Indiana Jones, Close Encounters, Stand By Me… Did you ever watch those films and then moan with your siblings that ‘nothing fun ever happens around here?’

More often than not, our lives are ordinary. Mostly, we are safe. If we want adventure, we have to go looking for it, right?

Not if you’re a writer. I think I figured this out at an early age. I fell in love with reading and became addicted to the feeling of snuggling up with a good book, shutting out the real world and allowing myself to become absorbed in a make-believe one, and then I discovered writing could offer the same joy and adventure.

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And it truly does.

My characters live tumultuous lives, with twists and turns, suspense, thrills, and plenty of drama. There is love and hate, obsession, adventure, pain and sorrow, unbelievable lows and amazing highs. I’ve put them through a lot and because of that I’ve been constantly excited, desperate to find out what happens next, eager to be part of the journey.

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It feels like I go through all these things with them. I mean, I have to, as much as possible. When writing a dramatic scene, when describing complex emotions, I have to put myself in the characters shoes as much as I possibly can. I have to think about how I would feel, what I would do, what I would say, and how I would react in the long term. Writing, therefore, makes my life feel like a rollercoaster of drama, events, revelations and reactions. When my characters are scared, I feel scared. And I get just as excited as them when things go right for a change!

Because of this, I often feel like I am living more than one life. And I could choose to live any kind of life I wanted. When writing, whether in first or third person, I’m creating a world I become a part of. I can be any age, any gender, any sexuality, any class, any culture I choose.

I sometimes wonder if this is why I like writing young characters so much. Because I’m reluctant to grow old and feel like my life is constantly passing me by, going far too fast. As a writer, I get to go back and be a kid again. I don’t have to say goodbye to my youth, I can relive it and recreate it however I wish. In real life, there are always things that prevent you from living out your dreams. Things get in the way and hold you back. There are financial restraints and responsibilities and so on. But if I’m curious about something or feel I missed out, I can write about it instead. I can create whatever world I want and live whatever kind of life I want.

 

 

 

Barefoot On The Cobbles – Guest Post by Janet Few

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When Chantelle kindly offered to allow me to pay a visit to her blog, she said that her own writing was gritty, contemporary and non-conformist. I reckoned that I could manage at least two out of three. Then I discovered that her blog was called Glorious Outsiders and that certainly had a resonance. I am here to talk about my new novel Barefoot on the Cobbles and my slightly eccentric life; Glorious Outsiders abound!

Before I was any sort of published author, I was and still am, an historian. As such, I am not particularly interested in politics or tales of the great and good. I am fascinated by ordinary people, how they lived and the influences that underlie their behaviour. If I say that the presentations that I give on historical topics include aspects of witchcraft, mental health, non-conformist religion and the role of women, you might get the idea. It is the marginalised who intrigue me the most; truly the outsiders.

I am also a keen family historian. I seek out my ancestors and pay tribute to all those from whom I descend. These are not rich people, nor are they anyone who is well-known but they are those who, if it were not for me, might be forgotten. I have several non-fiction books in my portfolio; books about social history, genealogy and local history. I had reached a lull in ideas for more non-fiction topics, so I thought it was time to turn to fiction. I hadn’t written ‘stories’, since I was an angst-ridden teenager. I was all set to craft a very different novel, when the tragedy upon which Barefoot on the Cobbles is based came to my attention. It was a story that was not recalled in local folklore, which piqued my interest. So, in a way, I still haven’t written fiction, as this is the retelling of a true story. I did find that my historian’s instincts had to be suppressed at times. Although very little in the book is pure invention, there were occasions when I had to create plausible scenarios to fill in the gaps in the historical record. At first, I found it very difficult to convince myself that I really could just make it up!

Barefoot is set, in the early years of the twentieth century. This era provided me with plenty of scope, encompassing as it does, the First World War, the fight for women’s suffrage, the influenza epidemic, the dawning of a social conscience and medical care in pre-NHS days, all of which feature in the book. So, from that point of view, the novel is not contemporary, yet the emotions that my characters experience are recognisable today; the psychological make-up of human beings does not change.

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In Barefoot on the Cobbles you will find a narrative set in the beautiful Devon landscape; communities whose lives were shaped by the sea. So not just real people but real, recognisable places. There are scenes in the local asylum, on a battlefield, in court and on deathbeds. I think that qualifies as gritty. It isn’t all doom and gloom because the characters’ lives shaded from joy to despair, as do our own. As I struggle to answer the question, ‘What is your book about?’ I often say it is about people and the incidents in their pasts that led to the tragedy that is the culmination of the novel. It is a ‘why-done-it’.

Who then are Barefoot’s non-conformists, the Glorious Outsiders? The person who became the main character is a fisherman’s wife, who is past middle-age and described by some of her neighbours as ‘odd’. On the surface, her behaviour seems unconventional and the novel seeks to explain why this is so. Apart from this desperate mother, you will meet the troubled daughter, the reluctant soldier, the traumatised engineer, the militant suffragette, the alcoholic bankrupt and others on the side-lines.

I will leave you with the blurb and if you want more information, it can be found on my own blog The History Interpreter http://bit.do/bfotc

“In the euphoria of the armistice a young woman lay dying. Daisy had grown up, barefoot on the cobbles, in a village on the rugged North Devon coast; she was mindful of the perils of the uncertain sea. Her family had also been exposed to the dangers of disease and the First World War but for Daisy, it was her own mother who posed the greatest threat of all. What burdens did that mother, an ordinary fisherman’s wife, carry? What past traumas had led, inexorably, to this appalling outcome?

Vividly recreating life at the dawning of the twentieth century, Barefoot on the Cobbles is based on a real tragedy that lay hidden for nearly a hundred years. Rooted in its unique and beautiful geographical setting, here is the unfolding of a past that reverberates unhappily through the decades and of raw emotions that are surprisingly modern in character.”

Barefoot on the Cobbles – a Devon tragedy ISBN: 978-1-911438-54-0 is published by Blue Poppy Publishing https://bluepoppypublishing.co.uk and paperback copies can be obtained from them. It is available on Kindle from Amazon, in various English-speaking countries. The link for the UK is https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07K3YMYRV

 

Summer Blog-a-day 2018 – Extract from my next release!

I am so sorry I am late putting this up! I agreed to take part in the Summer Blog-a-day 2018, courtesy of the lovely Kay Macleod and today is my day! I’ve decided to post the first chapter of my upcoming release Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature, which will be coming out with Pict Publishing in October. I hope you like it!

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Elliot

 

I think the men started it all. My mother going downhill.

She didn’t have much luck with the men, and this was a fact. According to my Nan and Uncle Liam, she kept picking bad ones.

She used to be able to laugh it off.

You live and you learn, she would say, got to kiss a few frogs before you find a Prince.

The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if it had all started with the men. There had been quite a few bad ones in a row, the first being my father, who had not hung around to see me be born.

I scribbled the men into a notebook to help me remember;

-my father

-the one who beat her up downstairs when I was in bed

-the one who came home with her from the pub

-the one who stole her purse

-the one who cheated on her with three other women

I didn’t really know any of them. I hadn’t even seen the one who beat her up. He’d just been a voice in the hallway, murmuring while she giggled.

Then one night, his voice changed. Light and fun turned into husky snarling. High pitched at the end of his sentences, like his voice was snapping into pieces. There were thumps and bumps, gasping and scrabbling. The man spoke to her in a low, mean voice and then slammed the front door behind him. I got out of bed and started across the landing but she called out; No! I’m okay! Don’t come.

The second one wobbled home with her one night after closing time. I’d sat with my back against my bedroom door to listen.

Seen you about. Liked you for ages.

Didn’t think you’d look at me twice!

You’re lovely, you are. All woman!

She broke down on him not long after the glasses clinked.

So bloody fat, aren’t I?

No, no, you’re all right, you’re…

Who am I kidding? Probably had a bet with your mates, didn’t you? Taking the piss out of me!

She went on for a while, having a go at him and accusing him of things. And then he left, quietly.

Next was the one who stole her purse. Apparently, she’d given him her number the night before, so he turned up on the doorstep to try his luck. She came running up the stairs after he’d left. She woke me up shrieking; he’s robbed me! He’s robbed me! That shitting little bastard! She sat with me on my bed, red-eyed and shaking.

‘God, I can’t believe what a bloody idiot I am, Elliot! What a pushover! Robbed my purse! My bloody purse! Jesus Christ, what is wrong with people? Why do they go out with the sole purpose of hurting someone else?’

She left it a few months before she latched onto the next disaster. It went well for a few weeks, until she got a phone call from a woman claiming to be his girlfriend. It all kicked off after that. There was screaming and shouting and things getting smashed. That was the same night I started watching the house opposite ours. The one with the old lady and the two striped cats. It was the cats that caught my attention. Crying and mewling to be let in, day and night. Why didn’t the old lady let them in?

The next morning my mother had come to a decision.

‘I’m giving up men,’ she announced over breakfast. ‘That’s it. That’s final. They’re all the bloody same. I was right all along, wasn’t I? That’s it. No more.’

‘Have you seen that old lady across the street recently?’

Me changing the subject pissed her right off. No, she hadn’t seen the lady, what bloody old lady? Hadn’t I listened to a word she said?

But I couldn’t stop thinking about the cats. That night I could still see them sat on the doorstep waiting to be let in. I watched them for a while before lying back down and picking up my notebook to hold open on my chest.

My bed was under the window and I liked to sleep with the curtains apart and the window wide open. I liked to lie there like that until the cold night air had completely numbed the tip of my nose. I could never fall asleep until the outdoors had drenched me in cold. Once I was cold enough, I got under the duvet, pulled it over my head and fell asleep.

Just then, there was a tap on my door and my mother came in. She shuffled in, tugging the sleeves of her pale blue jumper down over her hands one at a time. I always felt a slight sinking in my belly when I looked at my mother and realised that we were complete opposites.

I was tall for my age, with a shock of thick black hair, and deep brown eyes. My mother was five-foot two and apple shaped. Her hair was pale yellow and when loose, hung limply over both shoulders, where she would often reach up to tug at the ends. I thought she was pretty. Her face was round and flat, her eyes pale blue and framed by blonde eyelashes. Her lips were like a small pink flower. I longed for the smack of them against my cheek, but she had never been a kissy sort of person.

I wished we looked alike. I wished that people would say how like my mum I was, instead of wondering if my dark skin meant I was adopted. I’d never heard anyone say that I had my mother’s eyes, or nose, or lips. It made me sigh when she walked into the room, and as her shoulders slumped with her own sigh, I wondered if she felt the same disappointment and sense of disorientation whenever she looked at me.

Perhaps if I had looked like her just a little bit, then the differences in our personalities would not have felt so obvious either. I forced a smile as she approached my bed, wringing her hands and frowning as if everything perplexed her. I couldn’t help glancing at her short legs, before gazing down at the long ones that emerged from below my barrel chest. My Nan told me I was still growing into myself, and that I was not a finished product yet. I hoped she was right. My long thin arms and legs made my chunky middle look out of place. You’re a beautiful boy, Nan was always telling me, but that’s not what the kids at school said.

My mother spotted the open window and scowled.

‘Close your bloody window! You’ll catch your death!’

‘Mum,’ I sat up. ‘The house across the close has had its lights on for weeks now.’

‘So, what? What are you spying for?

‘Mum, she hasn’t let her cats in either.’

‘What are you on about? What bloody cats?’ She came to the window, crossing her arms over her chest.

I leaned forward on my knees and pointed. ‘There. Look. She hasn’t let them in and her light has been on for two weeks. Maybe longer.’

She shook her head, distracted. ‘Look, I had a phone call…’

‘Do you think something has happened to her?’

‘Elliot, listen to me a minute. I need to talk to you about something.’

But she didn’t sit down, and she didn’t touch me, so I continued to stare at the cats and suddenly I didn’t want to look at my mother at all. She had the same look on her face that she’d had when she told me Uncle Liam’s baby had died. I didn’t want anyone to have died, so I just concentrated on the cats.

‘I’ll go and knock in the morning,’ I said with certainty. ‘Make sure she’s okay. Maybe she went on holiday and someone is supposed to be feeding them but they forgot!’

‘Can’t you even listen to me?’ she snapped then, stalking briskly away from the window. ‘Is it too much to ask? I came up here to talk to you! Do you even care?’

She didn’t give me a chance to answer before she flounced off. I felt bad after that, but at least I could be sure that no one had died. She would have said so, wouldn’t she?

When she was back downstairs, I tried again to put my finger on what was different about her. The red eyes, for instance. She never used to cry as much as she did now. The stalking about and walking away and starting conversations but not finishing them. That was another thing. I gazed at the list in my notebook. Five bad men.

Did it start with the men? Or was there something before that? Maybe I had just not been paying enough attention. And now I needed to help her. I needed to do something. I felt like it was just on the tip of my tongue, at the back of my brain, teasing me.

I wished Uncle Liam was still around to ask for advice. Uncle Liam had moved in with us six months ago, but he’d gone off recently to clear his head. He would be back soon, because we still had his car and his dog Tizer. I decided to embrace the fact that it was going to be up to me alone to work out how to save my mum.